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Writers Can Learn From Lance Armstrong

25/02/2013 16:05 GMT | Updated 24/04/2013 10:12 BST

Every story needs a great main character. Hero, anti-hero or villain, the main character should be interesting enough for anyone who finds the story to be enthralled and engaged from the first word until the last. Lance Armstrong is the ultimate inspiration for writers, and you can learn a lot about storytelling from his story over the last 20 years. He's an unreliable narrator and a great mix of hero and villain. When you're forming a story, this type of character is the most seductive of all.

You Either Die a Hero...

Lance Armstrong is not Batman. But Harvey Dent's iconic line "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain" from the film The Dark Knight could easily be used to describe the fallen idol. If Armstrong had failed to beat cancer in 1996, the Lance Armstrong Foundation that was set up the following year and the hugely successful Livestrong charity would have had to have been created posthumously, and it is highly unlikely that he would have been pursued so doggedly by the people who have ultimately led to him being cast as the villain.

In a story, it is always interesting if the villain does not believe himself to be one at all. It creates more conflict for the reader if he or she is torn between agreeing or disagreeing with them. When the villain has a plan that ordinary folk could quite easily see themselves doing, it makes the story all the more compelling.

Ask yourself this: Would you have taken performance enhancing drugs if you knew you would get away with it, and it would lead to glory, untold riches and adulation? Ask the same questions of the hero in your story and you'll have a real page-turner on your hands.

Autobiographies and Fiction Go Hand in Hand

There was a case recently of a library that had shifted Lance Armstrong's autobiographies It's Not About The Bike: My Journey Back to Life and Every Second Counts from the 'Biography' section to the 'Fiction' section. Although this is quite amusing, it actually brings up an important question: Are all autobiographies and biographies just a work of fiction based on real events?

It is virtually impossible to remember everything exactly how it first occurred, without hindsight and the weight or years clouding your judgement. As the great Irish playwright Brian Friel once wrote: "To remember everything is a form of madness". There will have been plenty of lives whose accounts will have become significantly more interesting in the transition from memory to paper, and Lance's now famous works of fiction are just another example of somebody printing the legend.

Controversy Sells

There are two things you can guarantee will happen to the literary world following Lance Armstrong's admission of guilt (if you can really call it that). First of all, his third book, a tell-all account of his life in and out of the sport of cycling, will be released within the next couple of years. The second is that it will sell more than the other two combined.

Controversy sells, and a fallen idol's story sells more than most. Writers can do a lot worse than to look to Armstrong's story for a classic rise, fall and (maybe) rise story, and with the world of sport and celebrity as a backdrop: What could be better than that?

Suffering Builds Character

There are a number of novels, films and plays out there that you can flick through without finding any conflict or reasons to question anyone or anything that is happening on the page, stage or on-screen. Without conflict and the age-old dramatic rule of intention and obstacle (somebody wants something and something else is standing in their way), dramatic storytelling falls flat pretty fast.

If Lance Armstrong was the main character of a novel or a film, he'd have definitely been through the mill: Hero. Sporting legend. Cancer survivor. Charity fundraiser. Comeback king. Drugs cheat. Bully. Villain. He's done it all, and there's even a father-son story within there, with Armstrong's son defending his father until the father is left with no choice but to tell him the truth. It's the kind of story worthy of Steven Spielberg or Paul Thomas Anderson.

There is reportedly a Lance Armstrong movie in the works, and there will be thousands of authorised and unauthorised biographies written by writers desperate to attempt to piece together the jigsaw of a once-great athlete who fell spectacularly from grace. Any writer who has observed Armstrong's story over the last 20 years will have plenty of material to form their own stories, featuring their own flawed characters.

Daley is currently writing The Avengers 2, starring Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius and Ben Johnson as Nick Fury. He can be found at www.daleyjfrancis.com